An empty movie theater. | Pixabay

The movie industry is dying.

Due to wide­spread COVID-19 restric­tions, movie the­aters around the world have been forced to close their doors for almost a year.

As a result, in 2020, U.S. movie the­aters totalled more than $9 billion less at the box office than they did in 2019. Not only that, but back in March 2020, ana­lysts pre­dicted that by the time coro­n­avirus reg­u­la­tions were gone, the global box office could take a hit of more than $5 billion. As the restric­tions stretch on, these pre­dic­tions prove to be more than a little con­ser­v­ative, to say the least.

This huge loss, however, is not just related to COVID-19. Will movie the­aters make a comeback when the reg­u­la­tions are finally over? Yes, somewhat, but COVID-19 restric­tions simply accel­erated a decline that had already begun.

From 2002 to 2019 the U.S. saw a drop of nearly 350 million movie tickets sold nationwide, including a fall of 83 million from 2018 to 2019. 

Clearly, the movie theater industry had been trending in the wrong direction for a long time before the blow from COVID-19. 

An important con­tri­bution to the movie industry’s decline is Amer­icans’ expanding access to tech­nology. The global movie industry’s revenue losses from digital piracy are between $40 and $97.1 billion per year. Even back in 2018, the U.S. had an astounding 17.38 billion visits to illegal pirating sites. With most of life going virtual in 2020, the year could have only seen a massive increase in those visits, and thus a major hit to much of the­aters’ target demographic. 

As James Roberts, a reporter for Glide Mag­azine, points out, “over the last few decades, home video tech­nology has led to pre­vi­ously unprece­dented film pre­sen­tation acces­sible from the comfort of one’s home.”

For decades, the American public has taken for granted a key player for movie theater profits: the­aters cor­nered the market on major movie releases. Dozens of times a year, people flocked in hun­dreds of thou­sands to see new movies for the first time. With no other way to view the movie for another six months or so, the­aters pos­sessed a monopoly on the expe­rience, the profits, and the actual product. 

This, however, may be changing. With COVID-19 keeping many of the nation’s the­aters closed, pro­duction com­panies have started directly releasing their movies to online streaming com­panies. If this proves to be finan­cially ben­e­ficial for the pro­duction com­panies, it will spell doom for movie the­aters across the nation. 

Movie releases like “Trolls World Tour” indicate that movies are indeed heading in this direction. Uni­versal Studios was forced to release the movie as a digital rental, and made almost $100 million in its first 20 days alone.

The final nail in the movie theater’s coffin will likely be ham­mered home by Disney.

Back in November 2019, Disney released Disney Plus, its very own streaming service. The sub­scription-based service has had an incredible start, gaining more than 73 million global sub­scribers in just its first year. 

Disney Plus’ success opens a new door for the enter­tainment jug­gernaut, allowing it to release movies like “Mulan” and “Hamilton” as digital rentals acces­sible to their subscribers.

Disney movies made up five of the top ten highest-grossing movies in 2018, and seven of them in 2019. With Disney movies off the market, and other pro­duction com­panies likely to follow, movie the­aters will quickly be left in the dust.

Although there’s nothing like the movie theater expe­rience of hot popcorn, cushy seats, huge screens, and sur­round sound, the­aters are losing the novelty of being the first place you can see a new movie. Whether it’s to online rentals or to increas­ingly popular pirating sites, movie the­aters are on the way out.


Christian Peck-Dimit is a sophomore studying English